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Closing time? Historic Buffalo luncheon club must decide whether to stay open

An old-fashioned Buffalo lunch club with sweeping city and water views, serving spring rolls, Caesar salads and steak sandwiches from a dining room at the top of the Liberty Building, must decide whether to carry on in spite of dwindling membership and declining revenues as more people eat in their offices.

“The lunch hour has become something of the past,” said Michael Tyrpak, a financial planner who is “house chair” of the Mid-Day Club. “There are less and less people taking lunches.”

Members, who number about 75, will meet at noon Wednesday to vote on an action plan.

Even as the city it overlooks booms in a renaissance with new restaurants and hotels, club membership dropped to its least sustainable level since the dining room opened on the 21st floor in 1936.

“Our membership has been declining despite our best efforts. It’s just something we have to do,” said Evan Coppola, president, who is an investment consultant. “We’re just hoping that there’s some bolt of lightning that strikes and gives us great luck by the end of the week ... We would hate to see the club go.”

The 2015 Mid-Day Club has some women – the ratio is about 2-to-1 male – and modern city prints on the walls, yet it feels like a place where time has stopped.

Conversation goes on without interruption or hurry when it is open for lunch from noon to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. No cash or change is needed when the check comes. People pay by credit card or by bill mailed to members, who pay about $600 a year in dues after an initiation fee of about $1,000.

The club’s efforts to get more business met with some success in the last year and a half. It started opening to nonmembers on Fridays. Breakfast is served from 7:30 a.m. to noon. People come for “Poker Night” on the second Tuesday of the month. The kitchen delivers lunches to offices downtown. Anyone can rent the space for private parties. Rates dropped for young professionals and their numbers climbed.

But it wasn’t enough. The club, with a full-time chef and two servers, is just breaking even.

On Tuesday afternoon, lawyer Lindy Korn and a writer friend brainstormed while they lunched by a window table with a good view of City Hall and Lake Erie.

They talked between courses of lamb soup, a crab cake with spinach and a brie and bacon sandwich.

Douglas Levy suggested a focus group or invitations to recently promoted downtown employees. Maybe someone could make a loan and give the club another six months. Korn hoped a “hero” would make a generous donation.

“It’s a lunch club, but it’s also about community and relationships,” Korn said. “When I close my eyes at night, I think this was the best part of the day.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

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